|MR. HARBRECHT: Good afternoon and welcome to the National Press Club. This is our 90th
anniversary year. My name is Doug Harbrecht. I'm president of the National Press Club and
Washington news editor of Business Week magazine, a McGraw-Hill Companies publication.
like to welcome Club members and their guests in the audience today, as well as those of
you watching on C-SPAN or listening to this program on National Public Radio. . . .
I must confess, my first reaction to having our speaker today at the National Press
Club was the same as a lot of other memberswas the same as what a lot of other
members f the Club have had: Why do we want to give a forum to that guy?
Matt Drudge is the31-year-old chronicler of The Drudge Report, an Internet site
packed daily with gossip, tidbits and information on everything from the latest scandal in
Washington to the latest Neilsen ratings. He scooped the national news media on Bob Dole's
selection of Jack Kemp as his running mate and Connie Chung's ouster at CBS.
But Drudge's methods are suspect in the eyes of most journalists. He moves with the
speed of cyberspace, and critics charge he has no time to know his sources or check his
facts. Like a channel catfish, he mucks through the hoaxes, conspiracies and half-truths
posted on-line in pursuit of fodder for his website. That can have unpleasant
Recently he was hit with a $30 million libel suit, after reporting allegations about a
White House aide, Sidney Blumenthal, that appear to have no basis in fact and won't be
repeated here. (Laughter.) Drudge apologized and claimed the tip on Blumenthal was given
him by politically motivated GOP operatives. The lawsuit is still pending.
So why is Matt Drudge here? He's on the cutting edge of a revolution in our business
and everyone in our business knows it. And like it or not, he's a newsmaker.
Drudge claims to get up to 1 million hits a day on his website sometimes; that is
phenomenal, if you've involved in online journalism that's pretty amazing.
He culls his report from 35 daily newspapers, wire services and more than 1,000 daily
E-mail tips. My children, agents 20 and 17, know who Matt Drudge is. But they don't know
who David Broder and Helen Thomas are(laughter)two of Washington's legendary
And while many of his colleagues are loathe to admit it, The Drudge Report has
become a tip sheet for journalists, too. He came under fire in January when he posted an
item on his website that Newsweek was holding a story about President Clinton's
purported affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. The rest of history.
A Tacoma Parkright up hereright outside of WashingtonTacoma Park
native, skipped college and moved to Los Angeles, where he managed the CBS gift shop for
seven years before starting his report in 1995. He's a voracious reader and watcher of
news. But he has no training or education in journalism. He likes to draw parallels to
himself and Walter Winchell, the hard-bitten gossip columnist of the 1930s and 1940s. He
attributes his popularity to being at the right place at the right time.
But his critics say he embodies the most dangerous aspects of online, where a wacky
conspiracy theory can move the stock market and people with impure hearts and hidden
agendas can injure reputations and spread lies at will.
So, Matt, know this: You may be, as the New York Times recently dubbed you, the
nation's reigning mischief-maker; you may get it first sometimes, you may even get it
right sometimes, your story of success is certainly compelling. But there aren't many in
this hollowed room who consider you a journalist. Real journalists live, pride themselves
on getting it first AND right; they get to the bottom of the story, they bend over
backwards to get the other side. Journalism means being painstakingly thorough,
even-handed, and fair.
Now, in the interests of good journalism, let's hear Matt Drudge's side of the story.
Ladies and gentlemen, Matt Drudge. (Applause.)
MR. DRUDGE: Applause for Matt Drudge in Washington at the
Press Club, now there's a scandal. (Laughter.) The kind of thing I'd have a headline for.
I'd like to thank the president of the Press Club, Doug Harbrecht, thank you very much,
for extending the invitation to address you today, and to Kerry Gildae, the brave member
of the Speakers Committee, for suggesting it. Thank you very much.
You know, last time I was in townand this is my hometown, Washington, I grew up
hereI arrived to a headline in the local paper, "I was baby-sat by Matt
They quoted one of my elementary-school chums: "Even at age 12, Drudge already
liked to tell stories. He'd take all the kids down to a creek behind my house when it was
dark and tell us those elaborate stories. We'd be terrified."
Well, the one thing that has changed is my shoe size. (Laughter.).
You know, and what a place, Washington, DC, to grow up in. I used to walk these streets
as an aimless teen, young adult, walk by ABC News over on DeSales, daydream; stare up at
the Washington Post newsroom over on 15th Street, look up longingly, knowing I'd
never get indidn't go to the right schools, never enjoyed any school, as a matter of
fact, didn't come from a well-known familynor was I even remotely connected to a
powerful publishing dynasty.
Burning(?) I may have been, but I was sophisticated enough to know I would never be
granted any access, obtain any credentials, get that meeting with Vernon Jordan or work
with Newsweek magazine. There wasn't a likelihood for upward mobility in my
swing-shift position at 7-11. (Laughter.) That was my last job in Washington.
So, in the famous words of another newsman, Horace Greeley, I, still a young man, went
West, out to Hollywood. And I do mean Hollywood, not Beverly Hills, not the Palisades, no
90210 for this kid. It was the part of Hollywood they always promised to clean up and they
never do, a part of Hollywood you see on Cops. (Laughter.) Where you twinkle and
then wrinkle and people forget about you. That's where I'm from.
I swung into another clerk job, this time at CBS. I folded T-shirts in the gift shop,
dusted off 60 Minutes mugs. Occasionally after hours I had conversations with those
ghost of Bill Paley. It was during one of these wee-hour chats that he reminded me the
first step in good reporting is good snooping.
Inspired, I went out of my way to service the executive suites. I remember I delivered
sweatshirts to Jeff Sagansky, at the time president of CBS.
Overhearing, listening to careful conversations, intercepting the occasional memo, I
would volunteer in the mail room from time to time. I hit pay dirt when I discovered that
the trash cans in the Xerox room at Television City were stuffed each morning with
overnight Neilsen ratings, information gold. I don't know what I did with it; I guess we,
me and my friends knew Dallas had got a 35-share over Falcon Crest, but we
thought we were plugged in.
I was on the moveat least I thought so. But my father worried I was in a giant
stall. And in a parental panic he overcame his fear of flying and dropped in for a visit.
At the end of his stay, during the drive to the airport, sensing some action was called
for, he dragged me into a blown-out strip on Sunset Boulevard and found a Circuit City
store. "Come on," he said desperately, "I'm getting you a computer."
"Oh, yeah, and what am I doing to do with that?" I laughed.
And as they say at CBS studies: Cut, two months later. Having found a way to post
things on the Internetit was a quick learnInternet news groups were very good
to me early onI moved on to scoops from the sound stages I had heard, Jerry Seinfeld
asking for a million dollars an episode, to scoop after scoop of political things I had
heard from some friends back here.
I collected a few E-mail addresses of interest. People had suggested I start a mailing
list, so I collected the E-mails and set up a list called "The Drudge Report."
One reader turned into five, then turned into 100. And faster than you could say "I
never had sex with that woman" it was 1,000(laughter)5,000, 100,000
people. The ensuing website practically launched itself.
Last month I had 6 million visitors, and I currently have a daily average larger than
the weekly newsstand sales of Time magazine. Thank you, Sidney Blumenthal.
What's going on here? Well, clearly there is a hunger for unedited information, absent
corporate considerations. As the first guy who has made a name for himself on the
Internet, I've been invited to more and more high-toned gatherings such as this, the last
being a conference on Internet and society and some word I couldn't pronounce, up at
Harvard a week ago.
And I mention this not just to blow my own horn, but to make a point. Exalted
mindsthe panelists' and the audience's average IQ exceeds the Dow Jonesdidn't
appear to have a clue what this Internet's going to do; what we're going to make of it,
what we're going towhat this is all going to turn into. But I have glimpses. And
sometimes deep in the middle of the night I tell them to Bill Paley.
We have entered an era vibrating with the din of small voices. Every citizen can be a
reporter, can take on the powers that be. The difference between the Internet, television
and radio, magazines, newspapers is the two-way communication. The Net gives as much voice
to a 13-year-old computer geek like me as to a CEO or speaker of the House. We all become
And you would be amazed what the ordinary guy knows.
From a little corner in my Hollywood apartment, in the company of nothing more than my
486 computer and my six-toed cat, I have consistently been able to break big stories,
thanks to this network of ordinary guys. The Drudge Report, first to the name the
vice-presidential nominee on the Republican ticket last election; first to announce to an
American audience that Princess Diana had tragically died; first to tell the sad, sad
story of Kathleen Willey, first every weekend with box-office results that even studio
executives, some of them, admit they get from me. A new cable network is forming. I was
first to announce the unholy alliance between Microsoft and NBC.
I've written thousands of stories, started hundreds of news cycles. My readers can
follow earthquakes, weather patterns, read Frank Rich on Saturday, Maureen Dowd on Sunday,
from my site link to Bob Novak on Monday; dozens of other media spectrums, from Molly
Ivens; track the world's news wires minute to minute.
And this is something new. This marks the first time that an individual has access to
the news wires outside of the newsroom. You get to read all the news from the Associated
Press, UPI, Reuters, to the more arcane Agence France Presse and the Xinhua. I'm a
personal fan of the Xinhua Press.
And time was only newsrooms had access to the full pictures of the day's events, but
now any citizen does. We get to see the kinds of cuts that are made for all kinds of
reasons; endless layers of editors with endless agendas changing bits and pieces, so by
the time the newspaper hits your welcome mat, it had no meaning.
Now, with a modem, anyone can follow the world and report on the worldno middle
man, no big brother. And I guess this changes everything. It certainly changed on the
night of January 17th, when Newsweek spiked, at the 11th hour, a well-researched,
responsibly documented piece about the president of the United States and an obscure White
House intern named Monica Lewinsky.
After checking with multiple sources, I ran a story about the killing of the story.
According to the Los Angeles Times, people familiar with the matter said Clinton
was informed Saturday night or Sunday morning The Drudge Report had posted that
Lewinsky was about to erupt. For four days I had the story exclusively, and I took a lot
of heat. Everyone was afraid of it until the water broke over at the Washington Post
that Wednesday, and then everyone jumped on it.
Now they love it too much, and I'm still taking the heat. "He's one man out of
control," a caller warned on talk radio in Los Angeles. "There is such a
built-in level of irresponsibility in everything he does," cried First Amendment
protector Floyd Abrams in a page one Wall Street Journal piece. "The notion of
a Matt Drudge cyber gossip sitting next to William Safire on Meet the Press would
have been unthinkable," smacked Watergate's Carl Bernstein in an op-ed.
I was here last night looking over the Press Club, and I noticed a room dedicated to
one ofsomeone I can relate to, John Peter Zenger. And there's a plaque outside the
room. And I think he could relate to some of the heat I've been getting. To honor members
of the newspaper industry, this room commemorates the achievements of John Peter Zenger
250 years ago, whose courage in publishing political criticism helped establish the
precedent of press freedom in colonial America.
He was born in Germany. Zenger was a publisher in 1734 when he was imprisoned on
charges of criminal libel for articles in his newspaper criticizing the royal governor.
Risking his business and possible life, Zenger stood fast and was acquitted in a jury
trial after a brilliant defense of press liberty by his lawyer, at that time Andrew
It got me thinking that really what we're looking at here is history repeating. When
radio lost out to television, there was anxiety. The people in the radio industry were
absolutely anxious and demanded government stop the upcoming television wave. Television
was very nervous about other mediums coming forward; cable. The movies didn't want sitcoms
to be taped at movie studios for fear it would take away from the movies.
No, television saved the movies. The Internet is going to save the news business. I
envision a future where there'll be 300 million reporters, where anyone from anywhere can
report for any reason. It's freedom of participation absolutely realized.
The first lady of the United States recently addressed concerns about Internet during a
cyberspatial Millennium Project press conference just weeks after Lewinsky broke. She
said, "We're all going to have to rethink how we deal with the Internet. As exciting
as these new developments are, there are a number of serious issues without any kind of
editing function or gatekeeping function." I wonder who she was referring to.
Mrs. Clinton continued, "Any time an individual leaps so far ahead of that balance
and throws the system, whatever it might bepolitical, economic,
technologicalout of balance, you've got a problem. It can lead to all kinds of bad
outcomes which we have seen historically."
Would she have said the same thing about Ben Franklin or Thomas Edison or Henry Ford or
Einstein? They all leapt so far ahead out that they shook the balance. No, I say to these
people, faster, not slower. Create. Let your mind flow. Let the imagination take over. And
if technology has finally caught up with individual liberty, why would anyone who loves
freedom want to rethink that?
And that's why I'm addressing you today. It got me in the door, this new technology.
You walk into the Press Club, you see a plaque dedicated to Joseph Pulitzersomeone,
again, I love. Our republic and its press will rise or fall together. An able,
disinterested, public-spirited press can preserve that public virtue without which popular
government is a sham and a mockery. The power to mold the future of the republic will be
in the hands of the journalists of the future generations. And if Pulitzer were alive
today in this time, he would add using future media.
I was walking the streets of Washington, the streets I grew up in, last night. I found
myself in front of the Washington Post building again, looking up, this time not
longingly. This time I laughed. Let the future begin. (Applause.)
MR. HARBRECHT: Well, Matt, for our first question, let me
ask you, how does it advance the cause of democracy and of social good to report unfounded
allegations about individuals and the Neilsen ratings?
MR. DRUDGE: Well, that's a good question. I mean, I don't
know specifically what you're referring to. You know, I have somethere's different
levels of journalism; I'll concede that. One of my competitors is Salon Magazine Online,
who I understand is the president's favorite website. And there's a reporter there,
Jonathan Broder. He was fired for plagiarism from the Chicago Tribune. And I read
that in the Weekly Standard.
But do I believe it? Because as much as I love the Weekly Standard, they have
had to settle a big one with Deepak Chopra, if I recall. I heard that from CNN. But hold
on. Didn't CNN didn't have the little problem with Richard Jewell? I think Tom Brokaw told
me that, and then I think Tom Brokaw also had to settle with Richard Jewell.
I read that in the Wall Street Journal. But didn't the Wall Street Journal
just lose a huge libel case down in Texas, a record libel, $200-million worth of jury? I
tell you, it's creative enough for an in-depth piece in The New Republic. But I
fear people would think it was made up. (Applause.)
MR. HARBRECHT: Well, Matt, I wonder if you would define
the difference between gossip and news, then, please.
MR. DRUDGE: Well, all truths begin as hearsay, as far as
I'm concerned. And some of the best news stories start in gossip. Monica Lewinsky
certainly was gossip in the beginning. I had heard it months before I printed it. I didn't
really check it out. I knocked on Lewinsky's door. She wouldn't answer the door.
At what point does it become news? This is the undefinable thing in this current
atmosphere, where every reporter will be operating out of their home with websites for
free, as I do. I don't charge. It's a question I'm not prepared to answer, because a lot
of the legitimate news cyclesthe Associated Press, for example, will issue news
alerts, a recent one being an anthrax scare in the Nevada desert, where a group was
targeting the New York subways. AP news alert. Berserk. It went all the way to Janet Reno
commenting. It turns out it wasn't true. I think that was some gossip.
MR. HARBRECHT: Let's talk a little bit about the Monica
Lewinsky episode for a moment. I guess one could say you did "out" that story by
reporting that Newsweek had reservations about reporting it. The story came out.
The American people made a judgment, and Bill Clinton's approval ratings in the polls have
gone up 20 points. People consistently tell pollsters they don't want to know this kind of
information. They don't want to know this kind of stuff. And they blame the news media and
they hate us even more. Would you comment on that?
MR. DRUDGE: Well, I disagree with the question. Ask
Geraldo or Chris Matthews if the American people dislike it. Their ratings are doing quite
well. I think they just expanded Matthews to two hours. I disagree with that. This is a
story that's developing, that's serious. When I broke the story, I had it for four days to
myself exclusively where I was reporting details, quite frankly, Newsweek didn't
have at that point.
So I did some original reporting with that. I barricaded myself in the apartment. I was
terrified, because from my Hollywood apartment a story of this magnitude was being born. I
remember I teared up when I hit the "Enter" button on that one that might,
because I said, "My life won't be the same after this." And it turned out to be
I think it'sas the front page of all the newspapers say, this thing is yet to be
determined. I hope the American people will not let someone who has lied potentially in
office stay in office. But that's our call. You know, we've been here before and we've
made these decisions before. We're letting the court do it.
If you've noticed, the tapes have not been played in public, the portions of the tapes
I have heard. And the people who are in possession of these tapes, I believe, are letting
the courts take care of it. Some of the tapes are quite graphic in details I have heard
that I ensure you will take up several news cycles once aired. So I wouldI'm not
convinced this thing is DOA or the American people have dismissed it as private life.
MR. HARBRECHT: Do you see your methods and your medium as
controversial in and of themselves, or are they contributing to the degradation of serious
or hard traditional journalism?
MR. DRUDGE: Well, you know, the editor of Civilization
magazine, Adam Goodheart, wrote a great op-ed in the New York Times talking about
"Is this really something new, this type of fast reporting, this competitive, very
competitive"I'm part of the headline generation. He maintains it was a going
back to our foundations when the press was found in quite a different atmosphere, when the
press would report that the president's mother was a common prostitute brought over by the
British army. Imagine if someone did that now.
We have a great tradition of freedom of the press in this country, unpopular press. If
the first lady is concerned about this Internet cycle, what would she have done during the
heyday when there was 12, 13 editions of a paper in one day? What would she have done with
that news cycle? That's the foundation. That's what makes this club great is the
tradition. And I think we have a tradition of provocative press. And I maintain that I'm
the new face on that. I'll take that for a season.
But a lot of the stuff I do is serious stuff. I was first to report that the encryption
was missing from a Loral satellite, for example, a couple of weeks ago. I didn't see the
main press reporting that one. So not everything I do is gossip or bedroom. To the
contrary, I think that's just an easy label to dismiss me and to dismiss the new medium.
But I'm excited about the launch of this Internet medium. And again, freedom of the press
belongs to anyone who owns one. (Applause.)
MR. HARBRECHT: How much do you embroider or make up in
your online items? (Laughter.)
MR. DRUDGE: Now, which person here asked that question?
(Laughter.) Well, no one's raising their hands.
None. Everything I print from my apartment, everything I publish I believe to be true
and accurate. I put my name on every single thing I write. No "Periscope" here.
No "Washington Whispers" here. (Laughter.) I put my name it; I'll answer to
anything I write. I'll make mistakes. I'll retract them if I have to; apologizes for it;
try to make it right. But as I've pointed out, the main organizations in this country have
let us down every once in a while and end up in trouble with editors. So I don't maintain
that an editor is salvation.
There won't be editors in the future with the Internet world, with citizen reporting
just by the nature of it. That doesn't scare me. There's a notion that sticks and stone
may break my bones, but words will kill me. I don't believe it. I get maligned every day
on the news groups. I'm still standing. I still have a smile on my face.
It's just the nature of this new thing. I mean, if I get defamed from Egypt, what do I
do? Do I go to the World Trade Organization and ask for relief? This is the world we're
going to be facing shortly, and I don't know exactly what the courts are going to do with
this dynamic. I'm not too anxious about it however.
MR. HARBRECHT: Aren't you coarsening the public
MR. DRUDGE: I hope not. You know, these questions are
pretty tough, and I think if you directed this type of tough questioning to the White
House, there'd be no need for someone like me, quite frankly. (Laughter/applause.)
I have fun with what I do. A lot of it's smiles. A lot of it's "Look, Ma, I can
dance." A lot of it's preempting other newspapers. I cover politicians the way
theI cover media people the way they cover politicians. I'm reporting Jeff Gerth may
be breaking something in a couple of weeks, for example. That's fun stuff. That's a new
paradigm. It's where the media is unchecked. It's where they're not the only game in town,
where the media now is a guy with a 486 out in Hollywood.
How did a story like Monica Lewinsky break out of a Hollywood apartment? What does that
say about the Washington press corps? It just baffles me. I haven't come up with answers
MR. HARBRECHT: I think Monica Lewinsky was from
Hollywood, wasn't she? (Laughter.) How many sources do you require before posting an item?
MR. DRUDGE: Well, a little more than Bob Woodward's
"Deep Throat" from time to time. (Laughter, scattered applause.) Sometimes I'll
go with one person. The Loral worker who came forward and told me the encryption was
missing from the satellitethe biggest nightmare scenario for defense typesI
went with that one. I thought that was pretty solid. The guy seemed sincere.
What I do is a formula where I follow my conscienceand this is upsetting to some
peoplebut I maintain the conscience is going to be the only thing between us and the
communication in the future, now. And I'm very happy with my conscience.
If we'reif you're looking at me and thinking about the Blumenthal case, I
retracted that story within 24 hours. Even though he was demanding sources, I apologized
for it in the pages of the Washington Post. He called the apology
"drivel"this from the White House adviser.
And you know, I woke up to a very strange headline"Clinton-Gore approved of
filing libel suit." It's the first time in American history that a sitting president
of the United States has approved a civil action against a reporterin our history.
Well, I guess they locked some people up before we were founded. There's a room down the
hall dedicated in that spirit.
But this is athis is something new. And as we go, I think I'll prove White House
resources have been used to fight this litigation. Joe Lockhart, the deputy press
secretary, admitted he called USA Today from the White House Press Office to
complain about an op-ed that was favorable to me. Tax dollars at work. (Applause.)
MR. HARBRECHT: How many leaked stories do you get from
mainstream journalists, and would you speculate on their motivation?
MR. DRUDGE: That's a good question, because what I've
been doing lately is breaking news that's about to be broken, coverage of the coverage of
the coverage. But that's where we are, since the media is so powerful. The media is
comparable to governmentprobably passes government in raw power.
A lot of the stories are internal. They leak it to me wanting to get attention, wanting
to get that headline. More times than not, I will not give it to them. It has to
gethas to raise my whiskers. It has to be a good headline. I'm a sucker for a good
story. I go where the stink is. I'm a partisan for news. If you got a story, I'll be
listening outside when we're done. (Soft laughter.)
MR. HARBRECHT: All right, you've got your hat on, and you
seem to emulate in your dress and advocate in your presentation the good old days of the
tabloids of the '20s and '30s. But does populism equal consistently good journalism?
MR. DRUDGE: I'll have to ask Tom Brokaw that. I don't
necessarily think a populism means you're out defaming people left and right. A populism
press is a press that cares about the country. Most of my sources are concerned citizens,
in and out of government, who don't like the direction of the White House Press Office,
for example. Or quite frankly, a lot of the people on the Hill aren't quite forthcoming
I reported a great story about a website that had been set up, had been registered
"Friends of Al Gore PAC." The billing address they used for this PAC was 1600
Pennsylvania Avenue. Someone had registered a political action committee from the White
House, using it as a billing address. This is a huge story. I had it exclusively. I guess
mainstream press don't know how to work the Internet and get the information.
This is an example of a populous press. It's very concerning. That, to me, was
violating quite a few laws. They said someone in the office had set it up, and they were
told to bring it down, and it wasn'tbring it down. They changed the address
eventually. I looked up the address. It was a graveyard in Denver. That's a populous press
MR. HARBRECHT: Matt, what types of stories would fall
into the category that you would not publish?
MR. DRUDGE: Hmm. There's quite a few stories I don't
publish that come my way. For instance, specific descriptions on these Lewinsky tapes of
the presidential anatomy, I'm not reporting. I've had it, I've held it back. This, to me,
composed quite an interesting dilemma on a world stage, quite frankly. That is an example
that I don't think furthers the story.
That Phil Hartman may have met his wife through a prostitute doesn't necessarily
interest me. I'm an advocate. I love public policy. Those are the type of stories that get
meget me typing. I also like to have fun. I like to do ratings and box office, just
to show that it's not really about the product. It's more fun to talk about Godzilla
than to watch it, for example. (Laughter.)
So I don't have one straight category of things I rule out. I tend not to do drugs, I
tend not to do serious stuff that would upset people in private lives. That's probably my
criterion of drawing the line, which I get a lot of it. I simply hit the
"delete" and keep moving. I get 10,000 e-mails a day. There'sodds are
there's another morsel at the nextthe next(inaudible).
MR. HARBRECHT: Where does your money come from? Explain
the economics of The Drudge Report. How do you make a living from a free website?
MR. DRUDGE: Richard Mellon Scaife is not my benefactor,
if that's the question. (Scattered laughter.) I haven't made a penny off The Drudge
Report. It's been free. For the four years I've been doing it now, the website is
free. there's not advertising on it. It was a labor of love, it continues to be.
I sell the column, I have sold the column, first to Wired magazine up in South
Park, San Francisco, and now to(audio interference)and I've just been hired to
do a TV show, made some money that way.
But I didn't get into this for money. And in the early days of newspapers, no one made
any money, or radio, either. If that's the motivation, I just sit back and laugh when, for
instance, a Slate starts charging. I'm not sure where their(audio
interference)but that's how I make my money. Not much. I'mstill wear the same
beat-up shoes I've had since the day I started this, still walk the same streets.
So, that'sI think this is not a cash medium yet. There's probably quite a few
people making money on the hype of it, but the actual application of it? Don't quite see
MR. HARBRECHT: I just have to call this to attention,
because it's something that used to drive people crazy about Richard Nixon (?), and you
just did it, which is you threw out a sort of a juicy little tidbit about Phil Hartman
here, saying, "but I don't reallyI don't really have any interest in that kind
of thing," when in fact that's exactly what is on your website all the time.
And I call attention to it, because that's exactly the kind of thing that I think
infuriates journalists about what you do. I wonder if you could comment.
MR. DRUDGE: Would you care to give me another example? I
did not report the Phil Hartman thing on my website. Another example could help me.
MR. HARBRECHT: Well, you just threw out, as you throw out
things on your website all the time. And it wasit was just put out there with no
corroboration. Whowho reported that?
MR. DRUDGE: I think one of the syndicated magazines just
reported that. But my question is, again, what headline on my website would you call in
MR. HARBRECHT: Okay. Fair enough. (Applause).
Could youcould you succeed as a journalist, if you worked for an organization
which required an accuracy rate of 100 percent, instead of 70 or 80 percent?
MR. DRUDGE: I don't know what organization that would be.
(Scattered laughter.) (Applause.) I once gave a quoteyou know, I do a lot of
predictions. I have The Truman Show making $300 million. I once gave a quote that
"Oh, I guess I'm 80 percent accurate, the body of my work." Newsweek
magazine, and then Karen Breslau, who I happened to see in the courtroomin the
courthouse hallwaysshe's on the pay phone, she says, "Oh, Matt Drudge, my
name's Karen Breslau." "Oh, I know you. You're the one who made up a quote on
Sheshe reported Drudge is going to have trouble with his lawsuit, because
hishe claims his sources are, quote, "Eighty percent reliable." I've never
talked about the reliability of my sources. I said "Karen, you made that up!"
She shrugged her shoulders: "Whatever."
This isthis is mainstream press, this isthese are thethethat
bothers me. Recently, after the White House Correspondents' Dinner, I was walking down
Connecticut Avenue with the top editor at one of these national magazines. And he was
trying to get one of my pals to give him more information on some story that the pal has
some information on.
And the pal said, "No, no. You haven't been very good on conservative
things," to the editor of the magazine. "I don't think I'm going to help you.
You know, youyou just takeyou take, you know, stories and print them, and they
The editor of this magazine, which I won't name, says, "We just take what they
Now, if this is the standardif this is the skyscraper up on Sixth Avenue that I
want to dream about, I'd rather stay in my dirty Hollywood apartment. I just don't take
what people give me. I tend to at least try to frame it with an angle that would consider
both sidesprovocative stuff.
MR. HARBRECHT: Why then don't you always call both sides
when you report something?
MR. DRUDGE: I make it a point to call both sides.
Unfortunately Mike McCurry is not taking my calls anymore. (Laughter.) It's just
absolutely amazing that hethe White House has now refused all comment on anything
I'm reporting, whether it be Betty Currie on vacation, so I have been told, on some of the
days Lewinsky was checking in to see her. No comment. "We won't comment, it's based
on that dirty source." They did this with the Kathleen Willey storyno comment.
Anything I do. Al Gore is setting up a PACsomeone for Al Gore is setting up a PAC
with a White Houseno comment. Where is that coming from? George Stephanopoulos:
"We've seen how discredited The Drudge Report is."
That kind of stuff just rubs me the wrong wayand at their own perilno
MR. HARBRECHT: For someone who has been attacked by the
mainstream press, your website provides easy links to all the establishment media. Why do
you do that?
MR. DRUDGE: Well, because it'sto me it'sI
started it with a place where readers could keep uplinks to the various columnists.
The links I have on my website I declare to be the most interesting people working in the
businessall up and downleft, right and middleI love to feature them.
It's just a click away. You don't have to go through the front pageyou go right to
the column. A click away, you go to the AP Washington Fileup to the minute.
I started it as a lark. It built itself after I started collecting these names on the
website. And it certainly has changed the way things are donefor the pedestrian
anyway. And I've been told quite a few people are reading itfrom the top level in
government downfor accessfor quick access, unfiltered accessa click to
Helen Thomas's latest column, reintroducing a whole new generation to wire services and
columnistsI love them all. So I don't consider myself an enemy of the press
whatsoever, but I do consider myself to be an untrained D student who happened to get
lucky, but who happens to know a few things, and he has now has the ability to shout down
the street, "Extra, Extra, This Just In."
MR. HARBRECHT: What advice would you give to others, such
as Jennycam, who claimwho are out to find fame through the Internet?
MR. DRUDGE: Well, you know, fame for fame's sake
isyou know, always leaves a bad taste in my mouth. And you have to give them
something they haven't heard. There has to be a reason they'll come to your website. If
it's just made-up fantasies, why bother? You know, if I'm so bad and if I'm so useless and
I'm just a gossip hound, why was Sidney Blumenthal reading me the night before his first
day at the White House? I don't quite understand that. It seems to me I'd spend my time
over at the New York Times, who gets everything right. Advice is to follow your
heart and to do what you love. And I certainly am doing what I love. Again, I wrote the
Drudge Report for one reader for a whilea couple of readers5, 10, 15 readers.
I had a thousandthe first couple of months I thought, oh, that peaked that out.
Again, I'm up to these millions I never thought I'd see. And with the advent of Web TV and
cable modems, I don't know where this is going. Sixty million readers? What is
civilization going to do with the ability of one citizenwithout advertisers, without
an editorto broadcast to that wide group of people? The first lady says we need to
rethink it. I say we need to embrace it. And it will take care of itselfit always
has. It will get evened out.
MR. HARBRECHT: Here's a question that just came up. With
all due respect, in the past half hour you have been inaccurate 8 to 10 timesabout
history, government, the media. You said there were no suits approved by a president, no
profits in early newspaper and radio. Do you think journalists should have any minimum
MR. DRUDGE: Hmm, I've doneI guess I'm going to the
wrong libraries, because I can't find any lawsuitcivil lawsuit approved by the
president of the United States against a reporter. I can't find it. I'd like to have that
information for my litigationput it in the court papers.
Again, I don't maintain that I am licensed or have credentials. I created my own. I
don't know what the problem is with that. It seems to me the more freedoms we have the
better off we are. And you know I don't have a problem with chaos and new invention and
confusion. I'm sure in the early days of electricity it was absolutely chaotic. The early
days of cars the horse farmers probably said, "What are those things?"
It's not where I come from. I come from a much more of an optimistic knowing liberty
and freedom is the right way to go, knowing a new invention is afoot that is going to
realize things beyond anything we dreamed of. I'm not that scared of it. But then again
I'm not in elected office. You know, the president, the Congress, take this personally.
They're just the first to come through this Internet era. The person that sits in the Oval
Office next will get my undivided attention.
MR. HARBRECHT: Are journalists obsolete who fail to
include their e-mail addresses in their columns?
MR. DRUDGE: Well, you know, I'm getting sothat's a
hit or miss. I mean, I would advise interaction, simply because you'll never know what
you'll learn by offering an e-mail address. As I said in the speech, you'd be surprised
what the average guy knows. Some of my best sources have turned out to be people who
happened to be in the room that shouldn't have been in the room but who have come forward.
I would provide as much contact with the public as you can. Again, I'm getting so much
e-mail now I can't possibly read it. So it's a mixed blessing. But I would try to be as
open as you can and offer an e-mail addressmost of them do. I have correspondence
with the top newspaper reporters in the business through e-mail, and it's a fun
relationshipit's better than the phone. You could be doing other things at the same
MR. HARBRECHT: There were two recent episodes in our
business where stories in the reporting of the Monica Lewinsky case, where newspapers put
out pre-published stories online that turned out to be half-baked, frankly. Do you foresee
a separation of media practices where future journalists accept more your style and
methods, or accept the methods of appropriate journalism?
MR. DRUDGE: Appropriate? I guess you're referring to the Dallas
Morning News story and the Wall Street Journal story. Mistakes are made.
Mistakes are made all the time. I am not that alarmed by these mistakes. I think they tend
to correct themselves. Just because they're on the Internet doesn't mean they're less
powerful, say, than if they are broadcast on CBS. I don't distinguish it. I don't think
the rush to publish is any different than the rush to get it ready for the evening news.
It's the same kind of rush. It's our history. Think about the Philadelphia newspaper that
had 12 editions a day. What was that rush like? Probably a lot of sloppy stuff. But this
is the kind of tradition we have. It's kind of sloppy. And, again, I don't advocate being
sloppy, but that is our roots.
I have been doing some research on a book I'm writingI hope to writeon
populist journalism, and incredible history of reportingquickly, fast, going up down
the streets, screaming, "Extra, extra."
The problem I'm seeing immediately is if other Drudge Reports pop upand they
willit is romantic to have one person running down the street screaming "Extra,
extra," but if you have a thousand it could start looking like an insane asylum. So
if indeed we start having tens of thousands of people all reporting news, hundreds of
channels reporting news, all the different cable channelsclick, click, clickI
think people will grow disinterested. But again, they'll rally around something else. So I
leave this to the free marketplace. Every reader I have comes to me. I've never placed an
ad. They read me because they want to. The vice president will log on, hit my website
because he wants to, et cetera.
MR. HARBRECHT: Since when is the rationalization
"We've always been sloppy" a justification for tarnishing a great institution?
Does the right of every citizen to shout, "Extra, extra, this just in," outweigh
maintaining a professional ethic of journalism?
MR. DRUDGE: Professional. You see, the thing is you are
throwing these words at me that I can't defend, because I'm not a professional journalist.
I am not paid by anyone. So you are shutting the door in my face again, and I don't quite
understand what that's about, because that is not the facts. I can print something without
an editor. This is where we are now. I don't know exactly why that's so scary. I again put
my name on everything I write, unlike a few other columnists in this room.
If I am here to defend what I am writing, why isn't that enough? Why isn't that enough
as a freedom of press, the freedom of speech, to carry water? I think it is. I just don't
throw out reckless stuff at all. I do great pains. There's been plenty of stories I have
killed with problems attached to them. So I just don't buy that argument. (Applause.)
MR. HARBRECHT: One more time: Where do you receive your
funding? I wonder if you could address that one more time please.
MR. DRUDGE: It's not Richard Mellon Scaife. (Applause.) I
had some money saved up from my gift shop days at CBSa late bloomer. I have a small
apartment, $600 a month rent. I drive a Metro Geo. I take the A Train sometimes when I'm
coming out of New York to the airport. I don't need much money to do a start-up business
like this. Anyone for any reason can launch a websitelittle or no
moneyInternet connection, local phone. The modem lets you cover the world. The modem
lets you read what's happening if there is an earthquake in Alaska seconds after it
happens. I think that's fun and dramaticfor freeby a medium that was built by
taxpayer money. So perfectly realized. And, again, let the future begin. (Applause.)
MR. HARBRECHT: Matt, thank you for coming into the lion's
den today. (Applause.) I have a certificate of appreciation for you speaking at the
National Press Club; "Reliable Sources," which is our 90th anniversary history
of the National Press Club(laughter)till the end, till the end; and our
chalice, the National Press Club mug.
MR. DRUDGE: Thank you.
MR. HARBRECHT: For our final question today, what is the
biggest mistake you have made so far?
MR. DRUDGE: That's a really good question. I've made a
few mistakes. Ever doubting my ability was my biggest mistake, because in the beginning I
didn't think much that I had the right to report things. But I was wrong. Boy, was I
Whenever I tend to think, you know, "Oh, I probably shouldn't be reporting on the
president of the United States, respect the office." I respect the office so much I
want to cover it. And you know I maintain who is telling more truth this summer, me or the
president of the United States? (Applause.) So I don't have many regrets. I don't have
many regrets. I don't have many regrets in that area, except for doubting that this was my
God-given right and as an American citizen, and embracing it, and saying liberty is just
wonderful, thanks to the people who have come before me who have stood up for it. And
thank you. (Applause.)
MR. HARBRECHT: I'd like to thank you for coming today,
MR. DRUDGE: Sure.
MR. HARBRECHT: I'd also like to thank National Press Club
staff members Kate Goggin, Joanne Booze, Pat Nelson, Melanie Abdow-Dermott and Howard
Rothman for organizing today's lunch. I hope you all enjoyed it. Thank you very much for
coming. (Sounds gavel.)
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